Sustainability lies not just in the materials you use for your home, or the energy you consume. It’s in how the home you build accompanies you through life. Founders Carolyn Merrifield and Nic Downs built their own contemporary, low-energy home and office in Cardiff. This is the setting for Downs Merrifield, a team that brings its experience to ambitious developments and to small details. Creating a well-designed, sustainable home is something in which they find joy.
What does your business offer?
Carefully crafted, bespoke designs to give people the house that they’ve always wanted. We bring clients something bigger in ideas than they imagined and a service that’s personal to them.
Who’s behind the business and what are your values?
My husband Nic Downs and myself Carolyn. We’ve had a lifetime working for architectural firms in very large commercial projects.
The joy of designing houses has been working in the detail. That’s why we set up the business. Our goal is to educate the client with current sustainable thinking and good design that can add value.
Why would you consider yourself to be sustainable?
The houses we create are sustainable. They use local materials and low energy. They are also sustainable in that they will last a lifetime. That means flexibility and helping people lead their lives as they change.
I often say to young families not just to design around small children. Those children will grow up and you’ll need room for teenagers. Then we often think together about a room on the ground floor that can be converted into a bedroom when the client gets older.
Tell me about a project you’re proud of.
My colleague Rob’s house – he was the lead designer for that one, but I’m still proud of it.
There were several issues. It’s built behind a wall in a conservation area on a small triangular site. However, we needed to squeeze in a four-bed family home.
The slab needed to be lifted as it was built on a flood plain. We used an interesting foundation solution that’s commonly used in low-energy Passivhaus builds. The foundation was designed on a computer, built in a factory and then brought to the site.
We started in April and finished in July. That is quick for a house! It was very low energy and quite economical. I say ‘quite’ because bespoke staircases and glass balustrades tend to be more expensive than mass produced goods. We created a functional aesthetic.
We’ve been shortlisted now for the RSAW architectural prize.
How has your business changed and learnt over time?
We are quite new as a business and I hope we’re getting better at finding alternative ways to do the same thing – creating low-energy, well-designed homes. There are so many solutions out there.
We realised we’re capable of larger projects too. We’re taking on designs such as the new Green Quarter in East Cardiff and redevelopment of the old BBC site in Llandaff.
What’s your local home improvement tip?
Use an architect with experience. If it’s a relatively small thing speak to Peter Draper at Eco Home Centre. He was a huge help with many things including eco paint when we built Ty Oriel. There’s a minefield of complexity in the materials you use to create your home.
When it comes to building low-energy housing, find a really good mechanical engineer to help with the heating and cooling systems. We once were asked to renovate a 1960s house. We appointed BRE to help us.
Past customers say:
"Their creative design solutions and relaxed approach to resolving any issues really benefited this project. Working with Downs Merrifield is a true partnership, they are with you all the way through the many "ups" and the few "downs", which will inevitably happen on such a technically challenging job."
"The end result reflects the quality and design of the project and the crispness between original and contemporary. Jo and I are delighted with the end product and very grateful for your design input and support throughout the project."